Susan DeFreitas has given us a stunning debut novel—Hot Season, set at a small, environmental liberal arts college in Arizona. Readers will recognize themselves in at least one of these characters: the naïve and impressionable chameleon, Katie; beautiful, sought-after Jenna; mature and responsible Rell; charismatic Crockett; humble, straightforward Arin. DeFreitas renders them all in specific, often humorous detail.
“Crockett fit his hat back on his head as if to leave, but then just stood there at the foot of their steps, grinning, like some kind of neighborhood stray—hoping for a warm bed, maybe, or a dish with his name on it.”
“Katie’s face contracted and then, after a long moment, crumpled. The way, Rell imagined, the Snoquomish Dam once had, giving way to all that pressure, all that water held back for so long.”
“Scott was airborne. With those skinny legs and broad shoulders, at rest he looked like some kind of startled stork. But when he ran, the boy was pure poetry. He was made for this and he knew it: made to run, made to respond in the face of disaster.”
DeFreitas is similarly adept at describing the natural world:
“From the road, springs and creeks were visible as ribbons of green in an otherwise dry landscape. Up close, they revealed a riot of wildlife, from songbirds to salamanders, fish to frogs. Those oases supported greater species diversity in a few hundred feet than many landscapes supported in a few hundred miles.”
So many favorite passages in Hot Season, where DeFreitas weaves her gifts for language, characterization, plot, and irony, building to a tense and brilliant climactic moment, gleaming with the complexities of radical activism.
“Katie just stood there on the ridge, staring. It was the face of someone taking a curve too fast on a motorcycle, realizing that they were headed into a collision; the face of someone who’d jumped from a plane, only to discover the rip cord of the parachute was stuck. It was the face of someone realizing, for the first time, that the rest of her life would forever be defined by some dumb decision she’d made in her youth.”
“Rell was struck by a sort of euphoria. As ridiculous a thought as it may have been, she was actually doing something with her education. She had influenced people to take action, to do the right thing. Which, for once, was entirely clear.”
“Forty grand worth of debt divided by thirty rejected job applications times eight dollars an hour equaled a lifetime of lectures from her mother about how she should have just played it safe and gone to community college…”
Whether ignoring a mouse on the kitchen counter, or wondering if she will get her rental deposit back, given her housemate’s rollicking sex, the bed frame knocking against the drywall, or talking about news that will spread “faster than a case of crabs,” DeFreitas’ characters capture life at this particular college. But more importantly, DeFreitas gives us a moment on the timeline of all our lives—when over a four-year span, we grow from someone in search of an identity, to fully-formed humans, with ideas, opinions, true friends, and a wisdom gleaned often from our own stupidity.
The book will bring you back to a time when you still thought you could save the world. Hot Season is both relevant and prophetic, given how recently, shockingly more perilous our world has become.
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